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How To Play Badass Lead Guitar Licks, Part One: Creative Vibrato Application
By Tom Hess - 04/14/2014 - 01:34 PM EDT

I often hear complaints from guitarists about how their lead guitar playing doesn’t sound as creative/good as they want. Reality is, there exist tons of reasons why this might happen, but there are answers to help you solve all of those problems as well. Here are frequent problems I observe in the lead guitar licks of many players:

  1. Using little to no vibrato or playing with vibrato that is NOT in tune
  2. Playing the first note of your guitar solo in a very weak manner by using narrow vibrato (or no vibrato)
  3. Using vibrato in the exact same way every time you add it to a note

Before you find out how to use vibrato in a highly expressive manner to make your guitar solos sound awesome, check out the video below to observe how any solo can be massively improved by using this technique in a more creative manner:

Use vibrato in the following ways to make your guitar solos sound AMAZING:

1. Make Sure Your Vibrato Is Consistently In-Tune

You must ALWAYS keep your vibrato in tune! Many guitarists play their guitar licks with out of tune vibrato, ruining potentially great sounding solos. To keep your vibrato in tune, make sure you consistently bend the string up to the desired pitch and return it back to the original pitch where you started. In other words, if you are applying vibrato to a note that is a width of a half step, the string needs to be bent up to match the pitch 1 fret above the note you started on. Next, the string must be returned back down and released to match exactly the original pitch you started on.

Listen to these examples and hear what perfectly in tune vibrato sounds like when compared to out of tune vibrato:

Example 1 – Perfectly In Tune Vibrato: Hear It

Example 2 - Out Of Tune Vibrato: Hear It

How To Use This Concept To Improve Your Guitar Solos Right Now:

Determine how wide you want your vibrato to be (such as a half step or whole step). Then invest time into applying this vibrato to different notes in different locations all over the fretboard while keeping it in tune. To speed up the mastery process, record yourself playing so you can pinpoint times when you were playing out of tune and understand the changes you need to make to correct this.

2. Use Vibrato In Many Different Ways

You must gain control of two main variables in order to play great vibrato:

1. The way the vibrato sounds (based on its width and the rate of speed at which its pulses occur)

2. The timing of when the vibrato is used after a note is played.

The majority of guitar players use vibrato with the exact same approach every time they play: they always use either a wide or narrow vibrato that is applied immediately after they pick a note. Don’t make this same mistake! If you do, your soloing will quickly become dull and repetitive.

To easily make your guitar solos sound much more interesting, use vibrato in a variety of different ways. For example, rather than instantly applying it to a note, ‘delay’ its application for a moment or two. This approach is not common, and will make your playing sound much more unique and interesting. Additionally, it will make the note sound much more intense while helping to sustain it longer.

Here is the difference between the conventional approach of instantly applying vibrato vs. delaying it:

Example 1 - Instant Vibrato: Hear It

Example 2 - Delayed Vibrato: Hear It

Another creative way to enhance your soloing is to both delay the vibrato and strike the note again to add additional intensity to the note. Listen to this example to hear how this sounds:

Example 3 - Delayed Vibrato + Striking The Note Again: Hear It

Example 4 – Here is a short example of how to combine the three different vibrato types discussed above by using various levels of intensity/speed: Hear It

How To Use This Concept To Improve Your Guitar Solos Right Now:

Select a guitar lick from a guitar solo that you like to play and identify the notes that are sustained longer. Next, record yourself playing this lick for several minutes while using vibrato that is applied immediately after the note is played, delayed for a moment or delayed + an additional pick attack. Use a lot of variety in this recording in order to force yourself to think creatively.

3. Match The Depth Of Your Vibrato To The Right Musical Situation

If you always begin the first note of your guitar solos with narrow vibrato (of a depth that is less than 1/2 step) your playing will sound soft. This sound is ‘sometimes’ appropriate, but sometimes it simply makes your playing sound ‘weak’. To have more expressive options in your soloing, learn to use wide vibrato on the very first note to add a powerful punch to the phrase! To do this, use vibrato that is at least a width of 1/2 step or one whole step (while keeping it in tune). This is not ‘required’ for all solos of course, but you should make sure you are not always beginning your solos with narrow/no vibrato.

Check out the audio samples below to hear the difference between narrow, wide and ‘extra wide’ vibrato:

Example 1 - Narrow Vibrato (less than a 1/2 step): Hear It

Note: Remember that narrow vibrato can sound good when used in the right situation, you just want to avoid ‘always’ using this type of vibrato as a crutch if you are unable to play wider vibrato. Work on becoming proficient with both types.

Example 2 - Wide Vibrato (half step): Hear It

Example 3 - Very Wide Vibrato (whole step): Hear It

Note: Using vibrato wider than 1/2 step isn't always the best choice over a more narrow vibrato. When you use vibrato in your solos, focus on matching the width and intensity of your vibrato to match the musical context. Being able to play wide vibrato gives you the option to add ‘intensity’ in musical situations that require more tension (this cannot be achieved by using narrow vibrato which is much more subtle). By mastering both narrow and wide vibrato, you will gain the ability to freely express yourself with the technique under any musical circumstance.

How To Use This Concept To Improve Your Guitar Solos Right Now:

Step 1: Think of several licks where the first note of the lick has a ‘longer’ duration (such as a half note or whole note).

Step 2: Use half or whole step vibrato to enhance the first note in each of these licks.

Step 3: Repeat the previous step for several minutes. Practice this for a couple of weeks until you have developed your vibrato technique to a high level. Once you’ve done this, you will be able to effortlessly apply this idea during any guitar solo.

The ideas in this article will help you to quickly improve any normal guitar lick or solo to make it a truly great one. However, there is much more you can do to create killer guitar solos. In part two of this article, you will discover how bends can be used to make your solos sound even more unique and creative!


About The Author:

Tom Hess is a successful professional guitar player, composer and international guitar teacher. He also helps musicians learn guitar online and reach their guitar playing goals. Visit his rock and metal guitar lessons site to read more articles about guitar playing, plus get free guitar tips and guitar playing resources.

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